New Brunswick

Seniors reject N.B. plan to raise drug co-payment costs

Seniors are unhappy about the N.B. government's plan to double the amount they have to pay for prescription drugs.

Seniors are rejecting the New Brunswick government's proposal to double the amount low-income seniors pay for prescription drugs.

Currently, seniors who receive the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement have to co-pay $9.05 for each prescription, up to a maximum of $250 per year, while the balance of the cost of the drugs is paid for by the province.

The province has proposed draft regulations that would increase the maximum costs for seniors to $500 per year. The amount paid per prescription will stay at $9.05.

Linda McCaustlin pays about $250 a year to take part in the Prescription Drug Program. She takes more than a dozen medications a day.

"I was shocked because I remembered [Premier] Alward's promise he wasn't going to touch anybody that was on low income and so far he's hitting everybody," she said.

The province says the program as it stands is unaffordable.

"While the program has seen its costs more than double in the past 10 years to $188 million, the program has not increased its co-pay amount since 1996," Health Minister Madeleine Dubé said in a press release. "Clearly, this is not sustainable."

Seniors' rights advocate Cecile Cassista says the increase in payments will force some seniors to make tough decisions.

"I will say, 'Well, I guess I will not take that medication,' and guess what? They will end up having to use our health care system much greater," she said.

48,000 seniors are in the program.

The province argues that the change will affect less than half of those people, because a senior would need to fill more than 28 prescriptions per year in order to reach the current ceiling of $250.

The government says the change will save $3 million per year. The proposed regulations start January 1, 2012.

The proposed regulation is listed on the government's website for 30 days for public feedback.